Climb Every Mountain

The Czech landscape is quite suitable for nature lovers, particularly nature lovers that are sportsmen.  There are mountains around the entire border and forests galore.  If I pay attention on my morning tram ride downtown, I can see the Beskydy mountains in the distance.  Today marks the second excursion into these mountains for hiking.  The first opportunity was at the beginning of September.  My colleague Hanka invited me to join her and her husband.  The weather was a bit foggy and wet that September morning (see right).

However, that didn't deter us in our adventure, and as I walked along in the mist--looking more like an American about to go for a jog than like a Czech hiker--I grinned to myself, knowing I was much happier trudging along in those soggy conditions than walking the cobblestone streets of Prague.  (I had decided to leave for a necessary trip to Prague a day later due to this invitation.)  For my first excursion into the Beskydy mountains, we decided to hike the highest mountain, Lysa Hora ("bald mountain").  After becoming sufficiently damp after a few kilomenters, we stopped at an old shepherd's cottage for tea.

Each time I go hiking, I forget that it is a bit fatiguing to actually climb a mountain.  The strain felt great in the dismal weather, and I wasn't too disappointed when we reached the summit and saw only fog.  There is a tower at the top of Lysa Hora; the tradition is to touch a particular spot on it and make a wish (see boys in background on right).  So I gave it a little rub and half wished/half prayed for clear skies. 

Lo, before I knew it, the clouds were swept away, and I could actually see the view of the surrounding mountains and of my city in the distance (see below).  Nonetheless, we were a bit chilled after hiking for about 8 km, so we went inside a tiny restaurant to refresh ourselves.  The air was thick with laughing Czech voices and the confident slaps of beer bottles onto sturdy wooden tables.  The air told us of cabbage and sausage soup.  Picking our way through warm bodies, we managed to acquire some soup and tea; after which, we dodged and carefully stepped with our precious loads before squeezing in by some older Czechs to enjoy our refreshments.

I was quite surprised by the number of elderly people in that lodge.  Many of them, in their retirement, make weekly--or even daily--trips up the mountain.  They become acquainted with other habitual hikers and become friends.  As a rule, Czech's are not very familiar with strangers, but when hiking, it's typical to use the more familiar greeting of ahoj with other hikers or at least to acknowledge each other with a dobrý den.

Overall, the ~18 km (12 mile) hike was very invigorating, and I felt that we deserved the cake and coffee we had following.  On the drive back to the city, I nearly fell asleep.  Nonetheless, the excursion was so pleasant that I was very quick to accept an invitation from this same couple for another hike.  This hike was to be a bit more relaxed.  Instead, we were to go to Ondřejník, and to have more of a walk than a hike with Hana's mother joining our party.  This morning proved more foggy than in September, and I wondered if my presence in their hiking party doomed them to dismal weather.  I met Hana and Karel at a tram stop and then we navigated on foot through construction to the train station.  We then went from train to bus to train to Čeladná, where our journey would begin.

When we arrived at Čeladná, the sun unabashedly greeted us and the sky boasted blue.  It was a bit cold, however, and we made our first stop at a pub.  We ordered tea as well as magister (some alcoholic shot).  Apparently it is tradition to take a shot before a hike in order to bring good luck and to warm oneself up.  Once fully warmed, we set out.

One of our new sheep friends.
Though chilly, it is definitely still autumn in the Czech Republic. The leaves are turning, and there is a full range from trees selfishly clinging to their green to those trees which have come to peace with the change and duly accepted their red.  Sheep we encountered had full coats, bundling up for the winter months.  After greeting them, we tackled the most exerting part of our trek--straight up a hill.  Between the exertion, the sun, and the shade, I had quite the time peeling off and reapplying layers of clothing.  Once on a level path, we settled into a Czech rhyming and walking game.

All the color and liveliness was a bit of a contrast to the restaurant in which we stopped for some soup (and some more Magister).  My companions reported that it looked the same as it did thirty years ago, and observed that the restaurant retained all the atmosphere of a socialist/communist-era restaurant.  Decorations were sparse, with walls of fake wood paneling, and a dull tiled high ceiling.  The ceilings and floor lacked any qualities to soften the room out of being a blunt rectangular cube.  The menu was simply printed on plain copy paper, and my comrades conferred that the soup likely tasted exactly as it did in 1980.  Nonetheless we enjoyed our guláš soup and went on our way again.  The rest of the walk was literally downhill.  We had a snack while we waited for the train, and once back in Ostrava, we stopped in a coffeehouse for some cake and coffee.  All in all, a lovely and livening day.

The mountain on the far right is Lysa Hora.
Home, and decked out in my hiking gear.


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